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April 22, 2013

Computer caddie

New technology helps golfers, course

VARNELL — Technological advances have been a part of golf since the beginning of the game with hickory shafts and the first innovation of the featherie golf ball — a leather pouch filled with chicken or goose feathers.

Over the years, hickory gave way to steel and graphite shafts, woods no long became made of wood, and putters have constantly changed throughout the centuries. More and more, the game is becoming greatly advanced with technology, and it should come as no surprise that golf courses are taking advantage of those advances.

One of the biggest innovations in automobile travel in the last decade has been the use of global positioning satellites to provide drivers with more accurate directions to and from their destinations. More and more, GPS technology is being brought to the golf course.

Nob North Golf Course recently replaced its aging fleet of golf carts with 65 new Club Car carts which come with a GPS system on every cart on the course. With the new system, players can calculate yardage on where they want to place their tee shots, yardage to the front and back of greens on approach shots and can even find out how many yards they are away from the clubhouse or the nearest rest room.

For the staff of the course, the new systems and new carts will allow them to chart play, send messages to carts if dangerous weather is approaching and allow faster service in the dining area of the clubhouse when players place orders.

“It is a great system for both the players and the course,” Nob North PGA professional Eric Hester said. “We are still figuring out all of the bells and whistles and learning what all the system can do. But more than anything we looked for something that could make Nob North a different golf experience than any other course around here.”

The Visage Mobile Golf Information System is a product of a collaboration between Club Car and GPS Industries. The entire system is keyed to a server in the clubhouse which can coordinate around the entire golf course. Course staff can see where every cart is on the course, gauge pace of play and restrict access to areas of the course such as wet areas and tee boxes.

“For course management, it is incredible,” Hester said. “The reaction from the players is that it has been well-received and the word is spreading. Golfers talk and it is building our reputation.”

Hester said Nob North — which is owned by the City of Dalton — is one of three courses in the state with the new system. Visage and Club Car are giving the course a free, no-obligation year to test out the system, and the cost of the program after the first year is $47 a month per cart for a total yearly cost of $36,660. Hester said the costs will be recouped by lowering maintenance costs and increase in rounds played.

“It can really set us apart, and I think the average player will really enjoy it,” Hester said. “A lot of people have range finders nowadays, but it is still a very small percentage of golfers.”

It is impressing local golfers.

“I think it is super,” said Gary Whaley, who plays the course frequently and is the golf coach at Christian Heritage School. “They are the best GPS’s I have seen. They have the yardages tied into the flag. I can pull up next to my ball and hit my rangefinder in the cart and it will be dead on. Days when it is carpath only, it gives you a view of the hole and you can get a real close estimated yardage.”

Whaley is a regular in the course’s industrial league and he said one of the benefits is the pace of play.

“It speeds up the play. Some people are slow no matter what, but the average guy doesn’t have to worry about figuring out distance,” he said. “As long as they let you on the fairway, it is dead on. Even if you are on the path, they are still pretty close because they have some good landmarks to gauge where it should be. They are pretty nice, and I was really surprised. I thought they would be standard stuff, but they are fantastic.”

And the word is spreading.

“We were at a tournament near Helen, and I was talking to the golf coach from White County, and he asked us what our home course was,” Whaley said. “We told him Nob North, and he said he has a brother-in-law in Cleveland (Tenn.), and he had told him about it and said he couldn’t wait to come over and check it out. Golfers talk to other golfers and it is getting out there.”

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